Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- If football’s “air-raid” offense was carried onto the basketball court, UMHB provided a blueprint of what that might look like in its ASC Tournament quarterfinal duel with Concordia on Thursday night.
Well-prepared for the rapid, full-court press defense of the Tornadoes, the Crusaders found the majority of their offense in the form of cross-court passes, throwing the ball well-past the Concordia defenders into the front court, leading to layups.
It all culminated in a 87-82 victory for the nation’s seventh-ranked team, who will play fourth-seeded UT-Dallas in the ASC Tournament semifinals.
“Something we’ve done since I’ve been here is try to attack [Concordia] vertically in the press,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said postgame. “A lot of that is just because we don’t want to dribble the ball 90 feet up the floor. We want to advance it with the pass, and go over the top [of the defense] a little bit.”
The Cru came out of the gates with confidence from three-point range, hitting three three-pointers in its first five possessions, two of which came from Kyle Wright. UMHB took an 11-2 advantage, forcing Concordia to call a timeout just four minutes into the contest. But the Tornadoes took charge from beyond the arc, connecting on eight three-point shots, eventually tying the score at 32 with 4:31 left in the opening half. In the blink of an eye, however, 50 seconds to be exact, UMHB mounted a 7-0 run. The 39-32 advantage resulted in a 47-38 halftime lead, a lead that was only added to as the second half progressed.
The game seemed very much in hand for the first 10 minutes of the final period, with UMHB leading by as many as 19, until the Tornadoes found a spurt of momentum and began gaining success in the press. As the UMHB turnovers continued, Concordia slowly chipped away, cutting it to seven, then four, then two, with 4:38 left on Donovan Stafford’s putback. A minute later, it was Stafford again, who this time tied the score at 76. The Concordia forward again scored a critical bucket with 3:03, following Wright’s layup for the Cru with a floater of his own.
“We started getting into some subs, trying to keep legs fresh, and all of a sudden, we have three or four turnovers in a row, they hit three threes in a row, and all of a sudden it’s back to single digits,” Carroll said.
Three minutes later, it was still a one-possession game, with UMHB leading 85-82. In possibly the most critical play of the game’s final minutes, a missed shot from Josiah Johnson was rebounded by Hammond in the corner with 11 seconds left, forcing Concordia to intentionally foul. The Tornadoes’ momentum evaporated, as UMHB pulled out the victory.
Stolz’s emergence: Entering the night, forward Nathan Stolz had a single-game season-best of 18 points. He increased that to 19 in the victory, playing perhaps his most complete game of the season. The junior forward came off the bench, playing 23 minutes, and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds, which was also a season high.
Cru bent, but did not break: The Cru’s lead, which was gained 21 seconds into the contest on Wright’s first three-pointer of the game, did not fade, though Concordia tied it four times. The Tornadoes never led, as UMHB came up with a few key offensive possessions down the stretch, which kept the Crusaders in front. Stolz said postgame that the performance in the second half was a testament to the Cru’s resilience.
Stolz: “We’re a resilient group. We prepare for situations like this in practice everyday.”
Carroll: “I probably should have taken a timeout [during Concordia’s second half scoring run], and settled them down. But I was proud of the way they fought through it. They never gave up the lead.”
Strength in the paint: A major part of UMHB’s offense is the Crusaders’ scoring ability on drives to the lane, and it showed against the Tornadoes. 44 of UMHB’s points came in the paint, compared to just 28 of Concordia’s, That included Ty Prince’s jumper with 2:27 left, which broke the final tie of the contest, at 80 apiece.
What Needs Improvement
The “defensive breakdowns” Carroll spoke of in a postgame interview, including allowing a high number of corner three-pointers. That was in large part due to Concordia finding ways to get “behind” the UMHB defense, which would often shift to the strong side, where the Tornadoes had the ball, before whipping a pass to the corner for an open three.
UMHB takes on No. 4 seed UT-Dallas in a 7:30 p.m. matchup at the Mayborn Center Friday. Admission is free.
Carroll: “It’s going to be tough because of our success at Dallas. That’s what [our] guys remember. They don’t remember the knock-down, drag-out we had here in Belton. I always have respect for Coach [Terry] Butterfield. He’s been in the tournament more than any of us. He’s one of my heroes in this league. We’re going to have to be ready. We’re going to have to play a lot better.”